Memorandum from the Royal Society for
the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
1. The RSPB welcomes the opportunity to
contribute to this inquiry. The RSPB is Europe's largest wildlife
charity with over one million members. We manage one of the largest
conservation estates in the UK with more than 150 nature reserves,
covering more than 100,000 hectares.
2. The RSPB is part of the BirdLife International
Partnership, a global alliance of independent national conservation
organisations working in more than 100 countries worldwide. The
BirdLife International Partnership strives to conserve birds,
their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards
sustainability in the use of natural resources.
3. The RSPB's policy and advocacy work covers
a wide range of issues including climate change, energy, education
for sustainable development, fisheries, trade and agriculture.
The RSPB also provides financial and technical support to BirdLife
partners in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia and supports community
based projects to help deliver local benefits from sustainable
natural resource management.
4. In addition to our ongoing efforts to
protect and enhance the natural environment domestically and internationally,
we are engaged in five major activities targeted directly at the
5. Within the UK, the Government has made
considerable progress in developing structures responsible for
deliver sustainable development (eg the UK sustainable development
strategy and its associated headline indicators, the establishment
of the Sustainable Development Commission, the Green Ministers
group, the sustainable development unit at DEFRA, amongst others).
6. This has led to some important improvements
in the process of policy formulation. Departmental spending reviews,
for example, are now subjected to a sustainability assessment.
They have also had some effect in raising the profile of sustainable
development, though mainly within the policymaking community rather
than the general public. On particular issues, and within particular
sectors, these structures and processes have resulted in more
sustainable policy (eg the renewables obligation, the climate
change levy, the CROW Act, etc).
7. However, to a considerable degree, sustainable
development still stands outside mainstream policymaking, rather
than being fully integrated. For example, whilst Treasury evaluates
the impact of explicitly green measures, it does not assess the
impact of the great majority of fiscal measures. Departmental
spending is assessed for sustainability in advance, but not reported
on and evaluated against sustainability criteria after the fact.
8. In addition, in most sectors there are
examples where the benefits of policies which contribute positively
to sustainable development are reduced by their co-existence with
policies which have countervailing or negative effects. In the
energy sector, for example, achievement of the Government's Kyoto
and carbon dioxide reduction targets has been made more difficult
by the form of NETA, by the absence of a statutory sustainable
development duty on the economic regulator, and by the temporary
moratorium on gas fired power plant construction. Even policies
intended to reduce carbon emissions (eg the climate change levy
and the emissions trading scheme) are designed in ways which will
not maximise carbon reduction benefits. The result is an overall
energy strategy which lacks the kind of coherence that the unifying
objective of sustainable development would give to it. Waste reduction
policies suffer from a similarly piecemeal approach that makes
appropriate Government targets unlikely to be met in practice.
9. In some very important sectors, such
as transport and planning, there is little indication of progress
towards sustainable development at all.
10. These shortcomings suggest that, in
spite of genuine steps forward, sustainable development is still
not the driving principle for policy formation. There is still
not the political will to place sustainable development at the
very heart of policymaking. The concept of sustainable development,
for example, is noticeably absent from the recent green paper
on planning. To the extent that sustainable development has become
an important principle of policymaking (eg in the context of devolution),
it is often the result of work by NGOs, the UK Roundtable on Sustainable
Development, the Sustainable Development Commission, the RCEP
etc, rather than by Government itself.
11. Partly for that reason, Government needs
to show greater political leadership in promoting the concept
of sustainable development to the general public, in order to
create the space and opportunity for civil society to consolidate
12. On the UK's international policy generally,
there is a need for a balanced approach to environment and development
that recognises the synergies between them. Just as poverty alleviation
is a moral imperative in its own right and offers the best route
to relieving pressure on natural resources, so sustainably managed
natural resources (including biodiversity) are a primary means
of alleviating poverty. This type of synergy provides the rationale
behind the International Development Target for natural resources
(reversal of decline by 2015). The global (economic) value of
biodiversity is immense and increased support for the Darwin Initiative
would go some way to helping to protect it. Very rarely do environmental
and social-economic goals conflict irreconcilably. Education for
sustainable development, which is a key component of the RSWB
and BirdLife's WSSD activities, can help to bridge environmental,
social and economic gaps, where they exist.
13. In terms of domestic preparations for
WSSD, Government (especially DEFRA) has funded and created good
opportunities for the involvement of the environmental community
in both the domestic and international agenda-setting process,
but has itself kept quite a low profile, perhaps because it is
under-resourced in this area.
14. The UK's international role leading
up to WSSD has been relatively strong relative to that of other
nations. However, it will be important for the Prime Minister
to follow up on the indications in his environmental speeches
last year that he will personally attend the summit and play an
active role leading up to it, for example by ensuring UK ratification
of the Kyoto Protocol and driving it through the EU, as well as
by promoting the importance of sustainable development and the
summit to the British public.
15. With respect to the WSSD itself, refinements
to Agenda 21 are clearly important, but we should not assume that
climate and biodiversity are adequately dealt with through their
conventions, or that forests are adequately protected. Johannesburg
should at least give impetus to a review of the adequacy of the
climate and biodiversity conventions.
16. In spite of progress made at Rio, we
have clearly gone backwards globally in many aspects of sustainable
development and need both political leadership and public relations
tools of global proportions to start to reverse these trends.
Even if Johannesburg is unable in itself to reverse negative global
sustainability trends, it should at least lead to international
public and political recognition that some trends (eg biodiversity
conservation) are negative, and to the establishment of ongoing
international processes for monitoring these and raising their
profile with a view to making substantive policy initiatives within
the next few years actually to reverse the trends. A set of global
headline indicators, similar to those used in the UK, might serve
both these purposes. The idea could be proposed at Johannesburg
and the indicators themselves developed over the next five years.